countertop cookers

You’ve probably heard the term “multi-cooker” and wondered what these devices are, and whether they’re as useful as the converts claim.

What is the difference between a multi-cooker and a pressure cooker, or a slow cooker? Do they really save you time and effort in the kitchen? Are they a good investment? We’ll dive in to find out.

A multi-cooker is a kitchen appliance that sits on your countertop and plugs into an electrical outlet. It has programmable modes, such as pressure cooking, slow cooking, yogurt making, steaming, baking, sautéing, stir-frying and keeping food warm.  For comparison, an electric pressure cooker is also a countertop device with programmable controls, but it can only be used for pressure cooking. Same with slow cookers – they can only slow cook the food.

The most well-known brand manufacturing multi-cookers is Instant Pot, but it’s far from being the only player on the market. Breville, Tefal, Cuisinart, Zojirushi, Philips, Black and Decker and others also make multi-cookers, and their models have different features.

How can a single device handle so many tasks? Multi-cookers do it by using induction, which is a type of rapid heating. They have an induction plate in the base to provide a precise temperature to the cooking pot. Computerized controls regulate the heat and the heating time, allowing different types of cooking processes to happen in the pot. For example, slow cooking needs low temperature that is highly controlled to prevent overcooking, while browning, sautéing, and pressure cooking require controlled higher temperatures.

Multi-cookers are loaded with features, but they can’t do everything. (No device can do it all.) Are there any situations when using one isn’t a good idea? Although great for shrimp jambalaya or a hearty oatmeal, a multi-cooker won’t replicate your oven for making roasted vegetables or anything grilled. They are best for boiled, braised or slow cooked meals. A multi-cooker will not be as helpful to people who don’t like to plan meals in advance, anyone looking to prepare quick meals, or those with unpredictable schedules. A multi-cooker could be a great choice for people on a budget, organized home cooks with little time to spend near a stove, and people who eat a lot of legumes, such as vegetarians.

 There are multi-cooker models that include an air fryer function, with special lid for this type of cooking. Air fryers also come as separate appliances that work like convection ovens. They are compact, and the smaller size facilitates even faster cooking. These devices essentially consist of a frying chamber, a heating mechanism and a fan. Hot air rapidly circulates around the food, making it crisp. The process resembles deep frying, except nothing gets submerged in hot oil. This can be an attractive alternative to the traditional method for those looking to make healthy meals in a short period of time.

If you’re interested in reading more about multi-cookers, check out these useful articles on the Washington Post (https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2018/voraciously/multicooker-guide/) and Consumer Reports (https://www.consumerreports.org/cro/multi-cookers/buying-guide/index.htm). There are also plenty of recipes that can be found online with a search;  for instance, type in “multi-cooker recipe for lemon chicken and potatoes” and – voilà!

Bottom line, are multi-cookers a good investment? That depends on your schedule and cooking preferences, but they certainly have their place in the kitchen, and could be an easy solution if you’re looking to spend less time near the stove, and still enjoy healthy and satisfying meals.

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